Psalm 12: Flattering Lips and a Double Heart – Can the Tongue be Tamed?

 February 27, 2018

Words, words, words. We are awash in political rhetoric, lies, slanders, half-truths. The air is full of empty words – words with no meaning, no action to back them up. It’s hard to know who or what to believe as it seems there is no-one who speaks the truth amidst the barrage. This situation is nothing new to our time and generation. It has been with us since humans first learned to talk and consequently learned to lie.

We’ve yet to learn how to tame the human tongue!

Words can hurt or help

The tongue is a mighty weapon indeed. It can be used for good or evil. Even the best intentioned among us have trouble at times knowing what to say, when to hold our tongues, when to speak up. Not addressing a problem or conflict out of fear of hurt feelings can lead to greater problems than if it was dealt with upfront. It can be hard to choose the right words when dealing with conflict and strong emotions. Conflict, if not dealt with well, can lead to greater hurt and further damage.

As an introvert, I am more likely to sin by not speaking. I’ve had to learn to open my mouth and share my truth with others. That doesn’t mean I can shoot off my mouth without thought for what I am saying. Others sin through talking too much without truly listening to others. And others are consciously deceptive, uttering lies.

The human tongue in Scripture

Scripture is full of warnings about the tongue. The tongue is referred to as a scourge in Job. Well he knew about this since he suffered much from his friends’ tongue as they offered unhelpful advice to Job in his pain. (From the scourge of the tongue you shall be hidden. Job 5:21)

Psalms and Proverbs refer frequently to the tongue:  the benefits of a truthful tongue, and the dangers of lies. In the Psalms we hear consistent warnings about the tongue and lies:

  • 5:9 For there is no sincerity in their mouths; their hearts are corrupt. Their throats are open graves; on their tongues are subtle lies.
  • 31:20 Strike dumb their lying tongues, proud lips that attack the just in contempt and scorn
  • 34:13 Keep your tongue from evil, your lips from speaking lies.
  • 39:1 I will watch my ways, lest I sin with my tongue; I will set a curb on my mouth
  • 52:2 Why do you glory in evil, you scandalous liar? … your tongue is like a sharpened razor.
  • 78:36 But they deceived him with their mouths, lied to him with their tongues.
  • 140:3 (Deliver me Lord from the wicked) who sharpen their tongues like serpents, venom of asps upon their lips.


Proverbs combines warning about the tongue with instruction about the proper use of the tongue:

  • 6:17 (There are six things the Lord hates) haughty eyes, a lying tongue and hands that shed innocent blood.
  • 6:24 To keep you from your neighbor’s wife, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress.
  • 10:20 Like choice silver is the just man’s tongue.
  • 12:18 The prating of some men is like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise is  
  • 12:19 Truthful lips endure forever, the lying tongue, for only a moment.
  • 15:4 A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse one crushes the spirit.
  • 17:4 The evil man gives heed to wicked lips, and listens to falsehood from a mischievous tongue.
  • 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue; those who make it a friend shall eat its fruit.
  • 21:6 He who makes a fortune by a lying tongue is chasing a bubble over deadly snares.
  • 21:23 He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from trouble.
  • 25:15 By patience is a ruler persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.

I particularly like the last one, how a soft tongue can break a bone, meaning you can accomplish a lot with soft, persuasive words. Much like the adage you catch more flies with honey.

In Isaiah 30:27, God is described as bringing judgment, using his tongue as a fire: “His lips are filled with fury; his tongue is like a consuming fire.” The prophet Jeremiah condemns the people for their corruption, expressed through lies: “Each one deceives the other, no one speaks the truth. They have accustomed their tongues to lying.” (9:5) A murderous arrow is his tongue, his mouth utters deceit. (9:8) Micah admonishes the city of Jerusalem: “You whose rich men are full of violence, whose inhabitants speak falsehood with deceitful tongues in their heads.” (6:12)

New Testament

In the New Testament, Paul warns in Romans using verses from the Psalms: “Their throats are open graves; they deceive with their tongues; the venom of asps is on their lips.” (Romans 3:13) And Peter instructs: “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep the tongue from evil and the lips from speaking deceit.” (1 Peter 3:10)

Perhaps the most well known of instructions on the human tongue are found in James, chapter 3. James provides an excellent description of the difficulties of controlling the tongue, comparing it to the bit that fits into the horses’ mouth and then guides whole horse, or the rudder on a ship. So the tongue gives direction to the whole body. But it is not easy to tame. Though a small member of the body it is a fire that can set whole body aflame.

Psalm 12

Psalm 12 is a plea for help in a Godless age where corruption and lies are everywhere – universal in nature for it seems every age has its share of lies and deceit. The same has been heard over and over again throughout history by people suffering from the effects of misuse of the human tongue, who live in a society where it is hard to trust the word or motives of others.

The psalm states, everyone utters lies to his neighbors, with flattering lips and a double heart they speak. Ungodliness (vs. 1) produces inner untruth which then leads to speaking lies. Their hearts are not true; they think one thing while doing another.

In response to this state, the writer asks God to remove the lips and tongues of those who boast of their ability to use their tongues for lies (vs. 3-4). They believe in the power of their lies. God responds “because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now arise.” (vs. 5) God hears the cries of those who are poor and needy and responds. We are not told exactly what God does or will do, just that God will protect them and that “the promises of the Lord are promises that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.” (vs. 6) In contrast to the words of evil men that cannot be trusted, God’s word is pure and trustworthy.

The psalm ends on a note of trust, asking God with confidence to guard them from the evils of this generation.

Training the tongue requires training the mind

The problem with training the tongue is that it entails training the mind, for it is from the mind that lies are formulated, words formulated. That is why James finds it so heard to master the tongue, for one must master the mind and heart first. As the psalmist tells us, first people turn from God and from truth which then produces untruth, lies. The only help in such situations when lies are so prevalent is to fall upon the truth that is God.

In John 6, after the bread of life discourse, many were leaving because of Jesus’ words. When Jesus asked his disciples if they too were going to leave, Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” God alone has the words of eternal life, eternal and true.

If we are to train our tongues, we must train our minds. We must take on the mind and heart of Jesus so that we can be of one heart, not a double heart. Only then will we speak the truth we desire to speak. Only then will our words and motives be pure. So let us follow Jesus with all of our heart and mind, then our words will follow.

What has been your experience with taming your tongue? Do you have any helpful suggestions?


This post is part of a series on the Psalms. Click on the button to follow the blog and receive a free copy of the book, Still Dancing, book 2 of the Dancing Through Life Series!   click here to follow blog

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